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Betsy and the Emperor by Staton Rabin (McElderry Books, $16.95).

When Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled to the island of St. Helena in 1815, he stayed in the mansion of the Balcombe family and struck up an unlikely friendship with the family's rebellious 14-year-old daughter, Betsy.

Based on true events, Rabin's novel offers humor, adventure and drama, as Betsy grows fond of the emperor and even conspires to help him escape using a hot-air balloon she helps stitch together from silk gowns!

-- Jean Westmoore
Theatre of Youth presents "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" based on Barbara Robinson's popular novel starting at 7 p.m. Friday and continuing Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. through Dec. 19 with Christmas week showings at 7 p.m. Dec. 20 to 23 and 2 p.m. Dec. 26 in the Allendale Theatre, 203 Allen St. Recommended for kids 7 and up. Tickets are $16 or $14. Call 884-4400.

Brrr! It's cold outside and it's getting colder, which means it's time to switch from icy, thirst-quenching drinks to warming winter ones, such as hot chocolate and hot cider. Here's a great recipe for mulled cider. (Mull means to heat, sweeten and flavor with spices.) You will need an adult's help to make this recipe.

Mulled Cider

1/2 cup light brown sugar

Four bay leaves

Four cinnamon sticks, totaling about eight inches of sticks

1 teaspoon whole cloves

1 teaspoon ground cardamom

1 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 gallon apple cider

Peel from two oranges, peeled thinly with a vegetable peeler

Put all the dry ingredients in a large pot.

Add about 2 cups of cider and stir until dry ingredients dissolve.

Add the rest of the cider, bring to boil and simmer gently for 30 minutes.

Using a ladle and strainer, transfer the mulled cider into another pot or large container to remove the cloves, bay leaves and rind. Serve immediately -- by itself or with a fall snack, such as ginger snaps or molasses cookies.

NOTE: Mulled cider can be stored in the refrigerator and reheated. Like regular cider, it will keep for about a week.